The name may sound dark, dark it may be in the caves, dark it may be in its depths, dark it may be when looked from beyond; but Karaada is a home to the richest and the greenest vegetation and flora in Bodrum. It is possible to observe a rainbow of colours when you are close to it. Colours you recognize are there; all shades of blue and green, yellow, red, purple and many more await to give you joy. But why the name Black Island?
The history of “Karaada” dates back to Carian Civilisation, just like Halicarnassos. Known as “Arkonessus” in ancient times, Karaada is the largest island in Bodrum region and lays in south east of the peninsula. This natural wonder, where the Blue Cruise boats, daily tours and those diving enthusiasts cannot pass by, is so close to Bodrum yet a secret heaven away from the splendour of the town. We don’t know who has taken after from whom but the legend has it that Cleopatra owes her beauty to the hot spring cave and the mud in there. Inhabited by the people of Caria in ancient times, the antique heritage on the island was almost completely lost around about the First World War. Karaada has been a theatre of war at the time of the attack by the French armada in 1915 and irreplaceable antiquities have been lost forever. Despite such devastation, today it is still possible to see the remains of ancient walls, temples of classical age and the sad remains of later day monasteries amongst the dwarf bush and the underlying local flora. Karaada; one of the Aegean islands that has been the subject of disputes, despite the fact that the National Pact of Borders was accepted at the Lausanne Agreement in 1923, has been left to the Turkish sovereignty by an agreement signed in Italy in 1933. The largest island in Bodrum region, Karada is 7 km. in length, approximately 400 meters in altitude at its highest peak and has a land mass of 910 hectares and 2023 meter squares, covered by olive groves, pine forests, dwarf bush and many types of flora, surrounded by a 20 km. coastline. We take the trip to Karaada on the boat of the famous personalities. Necati Kocadon, alias “Famous Neco” who introduced many of the famous people of Turkey, such as Turgut Boralı, Eyüp Bektaş, Alev Altun, Bedri Koraman, Müzeyyen Senar, Feraye, Müjdat Gezen, Şehrazad, Zeki Müren, Ali Poyrazoğlu, Ferdi Özbeğen and Korhan Abay, to Karaada also brings us together with Karada. A female sailor, İlkay Yıldırım accompanies the most experienced “Famous Neco” in his 11 meter boat carrying his name. Following a magnificent Blue Cruise to the island, our first stop is the hot spring known as “The beauty cave”. However, the packed nature of the little bay forces us to drop anchor at the quay of the only hotel on the island, Arkonessus Otel. Following a brief chat with the hotel personnel, we take off for the hot spring. Tourists pouring out of the daily tour boats rush towards the hot spring. The guard at the hot spring offers hands full of mud from the cave to the visitors. And adds in his distinctive accent “This is the very mud which beautified Cleopatra” as he pours water over the pebbly mixture and continues jokingly “a bit of water, and a pinch of salt added” trying to steal the show. The 32 C water with 7 pH value from this spring with a 20 lt per second flow rate is reputed to have healing properties for rheumatism, skin and eye irritations. The chemical properties of the cave formation provides the hot water spring with solutes such as sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium, chlorine and sulphate. By the way, as to Cleopatra’s beauty, the legend says it that running away from Rome; Cleopatra spent most of her time in this very cave throughout her 3 years of self exile around the Aegean coast. The secret of her irresistible beauty apparently lies in this cave. Having thoroughly eyed the cave from afar, it is now time to walk into this mystique darkness. The moment you put your feet in the water, a warm but relaxing and refreshing sensation runs through your toes, engulfing your body. Breathing the sulphur scented air becomes more difficult as one advances towards the womb of the darkness. Under the circumstances, the smart thing to do would be to take your time and get used to the air step by step. As our eyes become familiar with the darkness, we search further into the depths of the cave for the magic mud, hidden somewhere about. Our trial and error tactic, touching the rock surfaces, pays off. Finally we locate softened formations and then reach the mud. It is rather difficult to stay in the cave for long. As such, we collect hands full of mud (not much around to collect!) and make our way back for the application. Leaving the cave seems more difficult than entering because of the obstruction created by the mirror at the entrance, placed to illuminate the entrance. So much so that a man who knocks his foot on a rock because of the difficulty of exit angrily murmurs “Oh my poor fibula! And I paid for this torture (2 YTL fee for the entry!). The poor guy must be in such pain, he chucks the mud he collected away. I am not sure how beneficial it was but after we applied the mud over our bodies and a delightful trip to the spring, we continue our discoveries. Our second destination is a church which is still erect. On the way to the church we spot distinctive signs warning the visitors not to “Light fires whilst picnicking” and “Hunting is prohibited”. Soon enough, we spot the scattered remains of empty cartridges. Evidently, those fauna inhabiting this rich flora and vegetation cannot escape the wrath of the hunters. The hunter doesn’t care about the prohibition, bullets don’t care about life. On our way back, we come across “Meteor Crater”, the source of yet another legend about the island. As the name implies, the crater is believed to be the result of a meteor crash. It is a crater of about 25 meters in diameter, much like a pool of depth unknown, right where the sea water meets the hillside. Having seen the cameras we carry, a young man hurdles himself from a few meter high cliff into the Meteor Crater. The point where he jumped doesn’t look high from where we stand but when we climb up we get the feeling that it is very high, a shivering sensation grabs us. We see another warning sign here “Jumping in the water is dangerous and prohibited “. It is just a sign with scripts on! How many people take the warning into consideration? That we don’t know. A foreign and a local Tourist who comes across from the boats anchored off the shore opposite the Meteor Crater try their luck, a bit of an attempt to show off or may be to heighten their adrenalin levels. after about half an hour of discussions as to the wisdom of jumping in and encouragement, the long awaited applause is heard from the boats. They throw themselves in to the water. We take pictures of these courageous tourists and move on. We finally find our way to the church through thick bush and pine trees and are amazed at the Turkish influence! on the building. Graffiti “Diyarbakır I love you, Necla “and others have carefully been inscribed on the antique church walls. Sure enough, the church looks almost dilapidated for lack of care. Not much is left to see stone but walls. We decide to go back to the boat. Our final destination prior to leaving the island is the Arkonnessos Hotel. The hotel has been closed to public fort he last two years because of lack of interest in the accommodation in the island. Restaurant section is being renovated fort he season. Surely though, not many there may be, people do want to be able to stay overnight at the hotel. However, the expenses of running such a place here far exceed the income generated. Thus, no rooms available.
We circle around the island in the “Famous Neco”, our journey continues in the water. We come across a rocky formation named “Aksona Point” by a sponge diver from Bodrum. There is a natural marina where the cruise boats can drop anchor immediately behind the point where the island faces Gokova bay. The magnificence on the surface of Karaada is not of course limited to what we saw but the best of all is hidden under the blue depths of the sea especially for those diving buffs. “Delikli Cave” (cave with a hole) is an underwater cave on the Kos side of the island. The cave consists of two cave formations one of which has a depth of 20-25 meters and the other, towards the small bay, 40-45 meters. The passage way at 15 meters of the cave complex is so narrow that the divers do not prefer to enter through here. The other entrance is at 30 meters and the passage is wide enough for divers to discover. One could even observe scorpion fish, crayfish and even lobsters. At 25 meters depth in the front part of the cave could be observed large octopuses, perch, lahos, dentex, barracuda, murrina and if you are lucky enough, some stingray species in their natural habitat.
There was a question nagging in my mind. Why call an island “Black” when there are so many colours brought together in such a small place? It wasn’t long before I found out. Apparently, long time ago a fire broke out in the island and all the vegetation was wiped out. The island looked black for many months. And of course, the name “Karaada” is befitted because of this appearance to the island which nobody knew the name of until than. If you’ve read this article, go and meet Karada. But don’t expect to see anything black in the island because everything is excitingly colourful and dazzling.